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"Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People" Review

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TitleAmarillo Slim in a World of Fat People
AuthorAmarillo Slim Preston and Greg Dinkin
Year2003 (paperback 2005)
Skill LevelAny
ProsVery entertaining tales from a Texas road gambler.
ConsNot much actual poker.

Table of Contents
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11From Arkansas to Texas -- the Making of Amarillo Slim1
27Serving My Country (and Myself)2
47If You Want Some Publicity, Set Yourself on Fire3
63Have I Got a Proposition for You: Titanic, Ruston, Moss, and More4
87Doyle, Sailor, and Slim: Three Peas in a Pod Who Liked to Book and Bet (but Not Among Themselves)5
111It Takes a Tough Sonofabitch to Whip Me: Poker and Life as a Texas Road Gambler6
131A Binion, a Greek, and How Las Vegas Became the Poker Capital of the World7
149Another Greek, a Thackrey, and the World Series of Poker8
173Celebrity Has Perks9
187The River of No Return10
201Spit and Pull It -- Leading Men and the Super Bowl of Poker11
221Very Seldom Do the Lambs Slaughter the Butcher -- Getting Fat Overseas12
233A Rattlesnake, an Alligator, Pablo Escobar, and Another Trip to Idaho When I Almost Didn't Return13
257The Last Hand14
265Recommended Reading

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Amarillo Slim Preston's life story parallels Byron Wolford's in many ways. They were born in the South less than two years apart around the Great Depression. Both made an unconventional living before poker, Preston playing pool, and Wolford roping calves. Both formerly worked illegally as bookies. Both were charismatic hustlers who loved prop bets and became road gamblers. Both dressed like cowboys when they played poker. Both excelled at No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, their favorite game. And both had similar tournament results. Slim won four WSOP bracelets and had eleven cashes, while Cowboy had one and nine but won almost twice as much money.

They were friends, although Preston never moved to Las Vegas like Wolford did. Wolford evoked tears reading his poem about Preston at Slim's Poker Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1992.

The biggest thing that set them apart, and it was a pretty big thing, was that Preston won the WSOP Main Event, while Wolford's best result was second place. Amarillo Slim converted his victory into a tremendous amount of publicity for both himself and poker, appearing on television regularly and becoming the most recognizable poker player in the world for decades. Preston was like Wolford, only bigger, badder, and crazier. And so it is with their two books; Amarillo Slim's autobiography has more interesting stories from his more exciting life.

Born as Thomas Preston in Arkansas, by high school he went by his middle name Austin or his nickname "Curly". But when he sprouted straight up to 6'3", he became "Slim". At 16 years old, he met legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats1 and decided that he would henceforth go by the moniker "Amarillo Slim". At 20, he stole his friend's girlfriend and got married only a few months later. For most of the 1950's, he traveled the country with his wife Helen and their son Thomas Austin Preston III, hustling pool, often with the family present to help him look like an amateur. When their daughter Rebecca was born in 1959, though, Preston decided that poker could provide a relatively more stable income. He left his family behind and became partners with Doyle Brunson, sharing transportation, lodging, and a bankroll. They were also bookies for a while but exited the business when the 1961 Federal Wire Act2 made it too risky even for them.

World Series of Poker: Early Years

Chapter 8 covers the early days of the World Series of Poker. After a brief section on Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, Preston explains how Benny Binion had become obsessed with the idea after the 1969 Texas Gamblers Reunion. Jack Straus, Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, Bill Boyd, Doyle Brunson, and Preston "played poker nonstop for three days"3 in 1970. Minnesota Fats and Titanic Thompson were also there, but Preston thought their illiteracy and cheating habits respectively were bad for the image of the game, and they weren't asked back the next year.

Los Angeles Times feature writer Ted Thackrey gets credit for insisting that the event needed to be turned into a tournament. And the 1971 WSOP was indeed a big success because of it. Preston mentions almost in passing that he came in third place, while Jack Straus was the runner-up to Johnny Moss.4

The final eleven pages tell the story of the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event, whose official $10,000 buyin was half-subsidized by Benny Binion. A dozen players signed up, but four dropped out to keep playing in the lucrative side games. That left five Texans (Moss, Straus, Brunson, Crandell Addington, and Preston) -- a Kentuckian (Pearson), a New Yorker (Jimmy Casella), and a Missourian (Roger Van Orsdale) to battle for two days for the winner-take-all $80,000 first prize.

The game was played without blinds. Antes started at 10 chips, and went up after each pair of players was knocked out. Most of the bustout hands and many other key hands are described in detail. Preston would only publicly state that Brunson "ate something bad" and was bought out for $20,000.5

Poker Strategy

Although there is some implicit poker advice throughout the book, such as during the detailed recounting of the 1972 WSOP Main Event, this is a story book that happens to be about a poker player, not a poker strategy book that happens to have some stories.

The book has one short strategy section:

Amarillo Slim's Top Ten Keys to Poker Success

  1. Play the players...
  2. Choose the right opponents...
  3. Never play with money you can't afford to lose.
  4. Be tight and aggressive...
  5. Always be observing...
  6. Watch the other players for "tells"...
  7. Diversify your play...
  8. Choose your speed based on the direction of the game...
  9. Be able to quit a loser...
  10. Conduct yourself honorably...

You want to read this not for the poker advice but for the stories, which are plentiful. Amarillo Slim crossed paths with many famous gamblers and several non-poker celebrities, including singers Kenny Rogers6 and Willie Nelson (whom he beat in dominoes); Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson; actors George Segal, Elliott Gould, and Bob Hope; television host Johnny Carson; and daredevil Evel Knievel (whom he beat in a golf match employing a hammer for a club).7

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